This semester I’m teaching all speaking classes. It’s my favorite subject to teach because we can talk about, and do, anything, as long as it is in English. So we have enormous freedom in class to do fun things.

After years of teaching I have dozens of lessons already planned, some of which we’ll do. But, I get bored doing the same thing again and again so I decided to ask them what they wanted to learn. I figure if I am forcing them to speak English, it might as well be something they are enjoying as much as they can.

So in my first class of the week, I asked them two questions:

  1. What are you interested in?
  2. What would you like to learn in class?

I figured the questions were open and would encourage kinda anything and give me a few ideas. Turns out it was a bad idea because more than half the answers looked like this:

O.....kkaaaayyyyyyyy. Thanks for the help.

O…..kkaaaayyyyyyyy. Thanks for the help.

I quickly realized my error. Too vague. Sometimes when a topic is too big, you kinda freeze up and don’t know what to say.

So for the rest of the classes I changed the questions to:

  1. What topics would you like to discuss in class?
  2. What questions do you have about western culture?

These two questions opened up a whole new kind of answers, and actually gave me a small peek into their thought process and Chinese culture as a whole.


“I’m interested in the stories from the bible. Can you choose some stories to share with us?”

A lot of foreign teachers are warned to not talk about religion, but it is a topic I have taught several times. The truth is you cannot really understand western culture, or even English, without knowing the basics of Christianity. (Just like I think you cannot totally understand China without knowing about Buddhism.) I mean, so much of our language has direct religious words (goddamn it, go to hell, god bless you, etc) and most of our holidays revolve around Jesus. And it’s referenced again and again in movies and TV shows and it comes up so much in current events (gay marriage and abortion) so of course they are curious about it. I’m a heathen and an unbeliever, but even I end up getting stuck with teaching them about religion, though I tend to do it my own liberal elitist/feminist kinda way. (“Some people think the apple actually represented wisdom and the Eve brought pain and sadness but also joy and happiness and the ability to grow wise and evolve into the world, while the man just wanted to stay ignorant.”) Heh, heh.

Also, notice the first part of the question deal with Marilyn Manson. Maybe the only time in the history of the world, those two topics were linked.


“I used to watch 5 American movies a week, and I was really shocked. Like American Beauty…I think it’s too open!!”

When Americans get shocked and outraged with a movie it is usually because of over the top sexual content or violence. A movie like American Beauty is considered quite tame by western standards (very little sex, or controversial material). But it attacks the American image and the American way of life openly and blatantly. In China, that sort of subject about Chinese culture would be banned so they find the topic shocking.  I often forget about that.


“Western people can hold a party at anytime without reason and during the party they play together or just two or some more people chat or play together?”

I like this one because it reveals so much about China and Chinese culture. Parties here are not at all like parties in the west. parties are organized, with a host and games and activities. They don’t just go to someones house, relax and chit-chat like we do in the west. One time, several years ago, I held a western-style cocktail party in which we had no games, activities or host. The party had long started but I felt a sort of tension in the air. As if everyone was waiting and expecting something. I had to make an announcement that there was noting happening and nothing would happen. That they should just walk around, eat snacks and talk to each other. It was a foreign concept to them (and a bit boring I think, they prefer singing and activities.)


“Is it true that western people don’t sleep after lunch because if they do it they will be considered to lazy?”

Another question that reveals more about Chinese culture. Most people don’t think of China when they think of a “siesta” culture, but don’t fuck with their nap time here. Schools have a two-hour break midday and so do most businesses. In small shops the owners conks out right behind the counter (so you can wake them if needed) and large stores (like banks and post offices) run on a skeleton crew for the two hours with reduced services. Don’t plan on doing anything important between the hours of 12-2 because most people won’t be around (though it’s a great time to ride the bus as it is nearly empty! Just don’t get caught at the tail end as everyone is going back to school/work and they are super packed.)

And my students don’t even consider that other cultures don’t do they same. When I show them the typical high school schedule. with the 30 minute lunch break, they “wah!” and freak out and chatter about how sad it must be for western students.

Of course, not every answer was so serious….


“Something about vampires…”

Yep, vampire books, movies and TV shows are just as big here. Can’t escape them.


“Some idioms what native English speakers say, such as idioms about “ass”( no offence.)”

I like this student has such a specific request. What can I say? People love the word ass. (And if you can think of ass idioms, please let me know. The only one that springs to my mind is “when you assume it makes and ass out of me and you,” and technically, I think that’s a saying, not an idiom.)


“Why many western people can speak different languages? Because their parents are from other countries or something?”

This one is unintentionally funny, because let’s be honest, native English speakers are the most selfish language speakers on the planet, so I have no idea where this student got this idea from. “You’re in America, learn to speak American!” is the rally cry of the ignorant masses. Maybe this student meant specifically Europeans, whose language learning skills I am quite jealous of.

Although one question kept getting asked again and again, and while the students asked it in different ways, it was alll the same meaning: Why does America have so many guns.

Even in China you can’t escape the constant sad news coming out of America of mass shootings. And even worse you can’t escape the loonies who actually DEFEND gun usage after a mass shooting, blaming everyone and everything except gun ownership. Look Americans, I know it’s a controversial topic within the US but when you are outside the culture you look ABSOLUTELY MENTAL. So many students asked about it I know it is a topic I must address, but it’s not one that’s gonna be easy, nor very pleasant.

These kids are gonna keep me busy this semester!




Renata · October 12, 2015 at 6:32 pm

Loved their questions! Wish I was still teaching there to ask my students the same thing you did!

Ass idioms… obviously, kiss my ass (exact same idiom is used in Polish), calling someone an asswipe, somebody needing an asskicking, kick someone’s ass to the curb, stick it up your ass…

Too much fun…


Becky · October 14, 2015 at 4:50 am

Ah! Good ones! I will write these down and teach them to my darling students. They’re gonna love it, heh heh. Thanks!

Autumn · October 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Yeah, ass is big in idioms. Also feet. Putting a foot wrong, putting your foot in your mouth, walking in someone’s shoes, etc.

Guns. Yeah. That’s even our word for biceps. America is messed up on guns.

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